Death and Other Humorous Parts of Living

John W. Pinkerton

Old age is not something which I have dreaded: I welcome it, and, frankly, I’m a little surprised to have made it to the final glide pattern.  On the other hand, there is the approaching inevitability  which accompanies old age, death.  That’s a bit of a downer.

We’ve lived on the same corner for about 35 years.  I suspect staying in one spot so long gives one a greater awareness of death.  From my front yard I can see five homes.  In the time I’ve lived here, six folks have passed away in these five homes.  They were my neighbors, and I considered them all to be good people.   Each one who has passed I miss a little and take their passing as a reminder that my time will also come.

I recall the moment at which I realized in a visceral way that I was not immortal.  Up until that moment I pretty much agreed with the author William Soroyan, “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.” I have no idea what brought on the cold chill that went through my body at that moment.  I was strolling along in an A&P parking lot after leaving the LSU campus for my apartment when the epiphany occurred.  It only lasted a moment.  I accepted it and moved on.

I spent my entire public education career in a building directly across from the local funeral home.  It’s amazing how many people end up here in our little town to be buried.  Many come home to be buried; many come here to be buried  less expensively.  Some never move more than a few blocks away from the site of the ceremony that will mark their passing.  I always felt that it is a little ironic that a funeral home should be the structure which the youths of the school would see each time they left the front doors of the high school.  It might have been better  had it been a prison.  Presently it’s the Strickland Funeral Home, but it has had various owners during the last century.

The funeral business is an odd one.  It’s the one business I know of which really has no need to advertise.  Your loved ones will necessarily purchase the services of one of these businesses, usually the one closest to home.  I suspect that many people don’t care to be associated with funeral home folks.  They avoid any association with death, and being a friend of a funeral home person somehow might shake their faith in their own immortality.  Not I.  One of my closest friends is the lady people probably refer to as the funeral home lady when they can’t remember or don’t know her name.  Her job is to greet those needing the services of the funeral home and to guide them through the process.  Of course, her job is to be informative and pleasant.  I’ve known her for a long time.  She doesn’t talk much about her job, but I gather from what she does say that people arranging a funeral for a loved one are often not at their best.  Apparently, for some it’s the first ceremony they have ever been associated with which requires a measure of civility.


I suspect that the funeral home business takes an emotional toll on those who work in it.  Of course, some funerals are more emotional than others.  A young man, a relative of the owner, complained that the funeral business was pretty rough on him.  I jokingly submitted, “Well, all you have to do is to remember not to snicker.”  Yeah, I know, not very sensitive.

There are over eighty-five cemeteries in Burleson County.  Some are associated with churches, some with families, some with races (example, Mexican Cemetery), some with organizations (example, Masonic Cemetery).  The biggest cemetery in Somerville is not associated with any particular group.  It’s the Oaklawn Cemetery.  I assume that will be my last resting place.

The first classmate from my high school class of Pineville, Louisiana, who died was Max Howard.  He was a bright, pleasant fellow who received a degree in electrical engineering from Louisiana Tech.  He participated in his graduation ceremony from a hospital bed.  He died shortly afterwards from cancer.  When I went to a twenty year high school reunion, he was the only one listed among those who had passed on.  We must have been a remarkably cautious group.  When I went to our thirty year reunion, a handful had passed away.  Still pretty cautious.

I recently went to the fifty year high school class reunion.  Although I intellectually realized that many of my classmates had moved on to their rewards, seeing their names and pictures on a poster board was somewhat unnerving.  I remember most of them only when they were young guys and gals.  Although I accepted the reality of their passings, it still seemed like an abstract.  Just a few days after the reunion, I got word that one who was among the members of the reunion assembled had passed on.  She was a really nice young lady and was truly a wonderful adult.  It didn’t seem fair.

Epitaphs are interesting.  You seldom see them inscribed on tombstones, but I believe almost everyone has one secreted away in his or her mind.  They just don’t share them with their loved ones.  I suspect that the loved ones who do know of a departed’s desires for an epitaph to be carved on their tombstones decide not to honor their loved one’s desires.  That’s too bad.  Here are a few I find appealing: “Jedediah Goodwin: Auctioneer, born 1828. Going!  Going!  Gone!”; “Here lies an Atheist all dressed up and no place to go”; “See. I told you I was sick!”  I think for myself I would choose “Just passing through.”

Death, being a serious subject, lends itself to humor.  Being of Irish descent, I tend to lean toward humor of that origin. 

Q. What's the difference between an Irish wedding

and an Irish wake?

A. One less Drunk.


Gallagher opened the morning newspaper and was dumbfounded to read in the obituary column that

he had died. He quickly phoned his best friend Finney.

"Did you see the paper?" asked Gallagher.  "They say

I  died!!"

"Yes, I saw it!" replied Finney. "Where are you

callin' from?"


  Brenda O'Malley is home as usual, making dinner, when Tim Finnegan arrives at her door. "Brenda, may I come in?" he asks.  "I've somethin' to tell ya."

  "Of course you can come in, you're always welcome, Tim, but where's my husband?"

  "That's what I'm here to be tellin' ya, Brenda.

There was an accident down at the Guinness brewery...."

  "Oh, God no!" cries Brenda. "Please don't tell me..."

  "I must, Brenda. Your husband Seamus is dead

and gone. I'm sorry."

  Brenda reached a hand out to her side, found the

arm of the rocking chair by the fireplace, pulled

the chair to her and collapsed into it.  She wept

for many minutes. Finally she looked up at Tim and

asked, "How did it happen, Tim?"

  "It was terrible, Brenda. Seamus fell into a vat of

Guinness Stout and drowned."

  "Oh my dear Jesus! But you must tell me true, Tim, did he at least go quickly?"

  "Well, Brenda... no."


  "Fact is, he got out three times to pee."


  Murphy, O'Brien and Cassey sitting in a bar

discussing the words they would like to hear

spoken over their coffins at their wakes.

  Casey says, "I would like them to say 'He was a

wonderful family man- he always supported his wife and kids, and they never wanted for anything.'"

  O' Brien says, "That's lovely Casey. But I would like to hear them say, 'He was a great man in the

community - he undertook a lot of projects to make his community a better place.’”

  Murphy says, "That's very nice, O'Brien. But I would like to hear them say, 'Look! He's moving!'"

Wakes are the best part of funerals.  Broadly speaking, wakes are parties or social gatherings held in connection with funerals.  Locally they are civilized events which provide snacks and soft drinks or tea after the funeral is concluded.  They are opportunities for those who have gathered to honor the dead and to socialize with each other in the name of the deceased.  “Irish wakes,” which tend to be a little more lively, are pretty much frowned upon locally.  Honestly, folks, I don’t think the deceased will be offended other than not receiving an invitation.

Comments on death are often brilliantly conceived.

The idea is to die young as late as possible.

Ashley Montagu

I knew a man who once said, "death smiles

at us all; all a man can do is smile back."

From the movie Gladiator

I intend to live forever.  So far, so good. 

Steven Wright

Death is life's way of telling you you're fired. 

                                           Author Unknown

May you be in heaven a half-hour before the

devil knows you are dead.

Author Unknown

God made death so we'd know when to stop.  

Steven Stiles

I want a priest, a rabbi, and a Protestant clergyman.  I want to hedge my bets.

Wilson Mizner

If it weren't for the honor of the event, I had just as soon not attend my own funeral; however, funerals are for the living; the dead are beyond earthly cares.

I know that the death of a loved one is never an easy proposition, but I suspect it becomes a little easier to accept as we become older.  It’s not because we get any wiser; it’s because we come to be on speaking terms with death as we become old. If you’re like me, you suspect death sits on the edge of our beds while we’re sleeping just in case we decide to give up the ghost during our slumber. 


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